Linda Punsalan-Abdifar didn’t know anything about the woman sitting by herself at the Groton Senior Center when she first saw her. But she invited her for tea anyway.
And with that small gesture, she helped Carole Vachon-Kiessling, 67, get her life back. Before that day, Vachon-Kiessling had been seriously injured in a car accident, then had spent a year alone at home, isolated and depressed, with her 10-year-old dog.
“This place saved my life, I think,” she said Tuesday. “Because I was very depressed and I stayed in my room all day. That’s what I did.”
On Feb. 27, 2009, Vachon-Kiessling, a nurse, was driving to her mechanic in Jewett City and stopped behind a school bus.
A young driver struck her Dodge Neon from behind. Her hands flew off the wheel, her foot off the break and onto the gas, and the car flew across the street and down a 45-foot drop.
The seatbelt saved her life, but she broke her ankle, her heel and fractured her veterbre. She was in shock, so she doesn’t remember the pain until the next day.
Vachon-Kiessling said she got back from the hospital, later saw a neurosurgeon and had back surgery. She was able to walk a little, and even drive, so she could do a few limited things after recovering.
Then her car broke down. She couldn’t get it fixed.
That was it. Afterward, she said she stayed inside, her house a mess, unable to do anything for a year. At least.
Until one day, a friend mentioned something happening at the Groton Senior Center. Her doctor had suggested she get exercise. So she called the bus that picks up seniors, walked into the center and sat by herself. She uses a walker.
“She just looked like a nice person,” said Punsalan-Abdifar, who saw her sitting alone. So she said hello and invited her to the cafeteria to have tea with her friends.
“It was kind of funny. I felt out of place at first, but I was comfortable,” Vachon-Kiessling said. “People stopped by and said hi." Then she had the tea. Everyone was so kind and welcoming, she said. And that was how it started.
Now she visits every day, volunteers in the hobby shop two hours a week, takes ceramics class and other art classes. She also went on the bus trip to New York City Oct. 13.
“Good times,” said Richie Morale, who sat with her during the Thanksgiving luncheon. Vachon-Kiessling also takes care of someone else; a friend stuck in her house. She’s still a nurse, so she visits on Wednesdays and makes sure she gets her medicine and what she needs.
“I’m just happy a lot now,” Vachon-Kiessling said. “Even if I’m aching and I hurt, I know I’m going to feel good.”